Delicate touch alluring at North Van seafood bistro

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Joanne SaSvari

Shallaw Kadir, proprietor of Fishworks Restaurant, displays Tunisian Sea Bass, with Japanese long beans and Soya Sabayon, in North Vancouver. Steve BoSch/vancouver Sun

You’d think, being on the West Coast and all, we’d be simply swimming in great, inexpensive seafood joints. Sure we have plenty of sushi bars and fish ’n’ chip shops but when it comes to local, sustainable and affordable seafood cooked with creative flair, the choices have been a whole lot more limited. Until now. Now we have Fishworks, a friendly little bistro on the North Shore that might even have Vancouverites braving the SeaBus to come check it out.

Fishworks is the new project of North Vancouver chef Shallaw Kadir, whose last restaurant, The Edge Bistro in Edgemont Village, earned raves for its food, ambience and creative wine list.

Kadir lives in booming Lower Lonsdale, where he recently discovered that a lovely old heritage space had become available next door to the Jagerhof schnitzel house.

“I thought about it and realized there’s no seafood restaurant in North Vancouver that’s good, local and modern,” he says. And so the idea for Fishworks was born and, a month ago, came to life.

This welcoming space is a stylish mix of vintage and modern: Floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto bustling Lower Lonsdale, soft buff walls painted with dramatic swirls, spare industrial lighting mixed with ornate Middle Eastern lanterns and comfortably modern furniture. Unfortunately, it does get a little noisy with all those hard edges, but at least it feels lively even on a slow night.

The décor is inviting and the service pleasantly, but not overly, attentive. But it’s the food and wine — not to mention the prices — that will keep guests coming back.

“It is contemporary. It is West Coast. I’ve been working in Italian restaurants so there’s a little bit of Italian. Whatever is new. The chefs, we just sit down and create dishes,” Kadir says.

Kadir and his crew have a wonderfully delicate hand with the Oceanwise-approved seafood and an exuberant one — sometimes overly so — with flavourings.

Qualicum Bay scallops, Arctic char, mussels in Thai broth, even the halibut ‘n’ chips, all arrived grilled, steamed or fried to perfection, never overdone, which is not something you can always count on in even the finest of finedining establishments. The sauces and sides, however, occasionally overwhelmed the simplicity of the seafood.

For instance, the braised rhubarb alongside that Arctic char had a tart bite that was just too strong for the delicate fish. Dishes like the already-rich lobster cannelloni or a savoury shiitake mushroom salad came with not one but two or even three different sauces. And the cream in the scallop risotto was an added richness the dish didn’t need and suggested shortcuts this talented kitchen does not need to take.

On the other hand, the steamed honey mussels were perfection in a bowl: plump pillows of tender flesh in a bright little palate teaser of a lemon grass-basil-chili-coconut broth. It was so good, we mopped up every last drop and contemplated ordering more.

Other highlights were the clam chowder, which had the perfect ratio of clams and vegetables to lightly creamy soup; the crispyet-tender battered halibut; the six big, fat, caramelly Qualicum Bay scallops perched atop that creamy risotto; and whatever creative inspiration Kadir is featuring that day.

Accompanying all this great seafood is an equally great wine list that explores the world for interesting and affordable choices. Look for unusual varietals like Alvarinho, Garganega and Madeleine Angevine as well as all the usual suspects. And look for unusually low prices, as low as $25 a bottle, and all except for a handful of reserve reds under $60.

The food, too, is surprisingly reasonably priced for this quality: starters range from $6 to $14 (for half-a-dozen oysters) while the most expensive mains, the sake kasu-marinated sablefish or beef tenderloin, are only $25.

“My guests come here and they can’t believe that they can find that food at that price,” Kadir says, adding, “It’s not going to change for the next six months. Every six months I’ll change the food menu and the wine menu. But I don’t think it will go much up. I’ll look at the pricing then — I have to make some money, too — but I will try to stay as reasonable as possible.”

And who knows? Maybe some of the city’s other seafood restaurants will be inspired to do the same.

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